CCI Seminar: “What is (Epic) Truth? Apollonius of Rhodes on the Amazons of Terme (Samsun)”, Brian D. McPhee, 12:30Noon February 29 2024 (EN)

What is (Epic) Truth? Apollonius of Rhodes on the Amazons of Terme (Samsun)

Dr. Brian D. McPhee

Date: February 29th
Time:12:30 pm
Room: H-232

There will be snacks and refreshments.

This paper uses the curious example of Apollonius of Rhodes’ portrayal of the Amazons to explore the contested relationship between “myth” and “history” in learned Hellenistic epic. The 3rd-century BCE Greek poet Apollonius of Rhodes draws on a terrific number of generic models in his epic Argonautica, but one of his most arresting appropriations is the voice of the Herodotean historian-ethnographer. As his heroes, the Argonauts, sail along the Black Sea coast from the Bosporus to Colchis, the narrative pauses repeatedly to relate brief but vivid descriptions of the distinctive customs of the ancient peoples of the Karadeniz region. These ethnographic excurses are related in the present tense, which implies that the narrator considers both these peoples and their cultural practices still to be extant in his own day, centuries after the mythical Age of Heroes in which his story is set. But one people in this ethnographic sequence constitutes a notable exception: as the Argonauts sail past Themiscyra (modern Terme, Samsun), the narrator limits his account of the warlike Amazons exclusively to the past tense. I argue that Apollonius’ restriction of the Amazons alone to the past tense invites us to read his narrative in light of the debates that raged throughout antiquity as to the geography, history, and, indeed, the very existence of these legendary warrior women of Terme. If we scour Apollonius’ text for clues as to which position he might have endorsed in these debates, the results are inconclusive, at times even contradictory. Ultimately, all attempts to decode the significance of Apollonius’ past-tense Amazonian ethnography must wrestle with the ambiguous status of mythological truth in his Alexandrian epic—a problem that the poet’s differential treatment of the Amazons highlights without resolving for us.

Short bio:
Dr. Brian D. McPhee is currently a visiting scholar in Bogazici University and a Loeb Classics Library Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Durham University. He received his Ph.D. in Classics from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2020. His research interests include but are not limited to the Ancient Greek Epic Tradition and Hellenistic Poetry.